On Sitting Meditation
"Through your sitting practice, you will come to discover your own life and vitality...."
by Ken Russell
A purpose of a sitting meditation practice is to create a separation between our mental apparatus and our Selves. We are so deeply identified with our thought process that we must create a situation which will permit us to see what actually goes on within our consciousness. So deep is the fog of unawareness that we mistake our thoughts for reality—we believe we feel when, for instance, we are merely entertaining thoughts of a feeling. And we may believe things about ourselves and the world that are not true. This tendency to mistake thoughts for reality is so deeply ingrained, so much a part of our culture, that we must make a considerable effort just to discover the actuality of what is happening within our own consciousness.
Generally, I use an austere sitting practice that comes out of the Zen tradition. Its very austerity provides the background against which the activities of the mind may be seen more clearly. The directions are simple: you sit with your back erect and silently count from one to ten; one on the in-breath, two on the out-breath, three on the in-breath, four on the out-breath, and so forth until ten is reached. Then you start again at one and repeat the process. If you find you have lost track of the numbers, you simply start at one again—without being critical of yourself. If you find you are counting but swarms of thoughts still happen, just put more energy into the numbers. That is all; there is no visualization, no elaboration whatsoever, just simply counting. Try it, let's say, for ten minutes by an electronic timer, and you will be amazed at how hard it is.
If you choose to establish this as a regular practice, over time you will need to work up to twenty-five minutes per sitting. It is best to do it first thing in the morning, after arising. This provides the benefits of the meditation throughout the entire day. The preferred physical position is the Indian or Zen cross-legged one, using a zafu ( a round cushion) to support your buttocks. Then your buttocks and your knees form a stable triangular base to support your sitting.
When you sit regularly, you will discover that the mind has a life of its own, and this life is often divorced from the needs and realities of your actual life. You will discover all kinds of voices floating around in your consciousness: lines from your mother, your father, a mate, a television commercial, songs, and so forth. And you'll begin to notice how pervasive these voices are, how infrequently the mind is silent. You will notice both the randomness of the thoughts and that the mind, at other times, has an agenda of its own, an agenda that often does not correspond to what is good for you.
Meditation will help you realize that your mind is not you, that it is only something occurring in your consciousness. In fact, you will come to see that your mind is something superimposed over your essential being. If this is not clear to you, at least intellectually, all you need to do is observe a newborn or very young baby. He or she is full of life and feeling, and brimming with vitality; yet there are no thoughts present because the baby knows no words. Through your sitting practice, you will come to discover your own life and vitality, which has been overshadowed by your identification with your mind. You will see that the mind is the most conditioned part of you and is actually quite distant from your true nature. This realization may lead you on a quest to discover who you really are. This is the essence of the spiritual quest that asks, Who am I? or What is it that allows me to be conscious?